Experts to testify that mink farms may incubate a new variant and act as viral superspreaders, given their unique susceptibility to SARS-Co-V-2
GENEVA – A key Oregon Senate Committee will take up the nation’s first proposed statewide ban on mink farming in the wake of a torrent of scientific findings underscoring the major role that mink farms may have in spreading COVID-19. Senator Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, is the sponsor of a bill to phase out mink farming within 270 days of enactment and to provide support to the state’s seven actively producing mink farmers. Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy proposed the legislation, which is attracting broad support from animal welfare groups, conservationists, and scientists.
Last week, the World Health Organization released its “Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part Joint WHO-China Study 14 January-10 February 2021” (Joint Report) and noted that mink may be the potential reservoir or reservoir host of COVID-19 – and in fact could even be the primary source of COVID-19.
Other main points from the WHO report, specifically regarding mink and their role in SARS-CoV-2:
- Mink and COVID-19 mutations and outbreaks may go unnoticed;
- Mink may have been the intermediate host of COVID-19;
- Spillover to humans can occur indirectly through animal products and excreta;
- Infection and intraspecies transmission in farmed mink could lead to complex transmission pathways difficult to unravel and could create a year-round endemic transmission pattern.
Mink are highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, which spreads rapidly within high-density mink farms once introduced, by direct and indirect contact. High animal density on these industrial operations increases the chance for transmission.
Mink farm infections have been reported from Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Sweden. In the United States, perhaps as many as 20 percent of farms have seen infections. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), between June 2020 and January 2021, Denmark reported over 1,000 human cases of infection with a mink-related variant of the virus that spread from the North to the South, with estimates from Danish Authorities running as high as 4,000 human cases traced back to mink.
“The global pandemic that has resulted in millions of deaths started has its origins in the inhumane and severe exploitation of wildlife for commerce,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “There are robust efforts to address live-wildlife markets, but the United States and China are lagging badly in addressing the threat that mink factory farms pose. Addressing this problem must be a key feature of our continuing COVID-19 response.”
The leading mink producer in the world, Denmark, killed all of its 17 million captive after the Cluster-5 variant developed on mink farms there. “The global community dodged a viral bullet because of aggressive action by Denmark,” added Scott Beckstead, director of campaigns for the Center for a Humane Economy, and an Oregonian who grew up on an Idaho mink farm. “We’d be foolish not to pro-actively address this reservoir of highly vulnerable animals here given all we know about how mink factory farms can contract, transmit, and alter the virus.”
An outbreak of Covid-19 occurred on an Oregon mink farm in Clatsop County in August. Three mink escaped from the infected farm, and two of those animals tested positive, meaning they could have also infected native wild mink and other wildlife.
“Farmed mink may be key to the 2019 emergence of COVID-19 as the ‘missing link’ between bats and people in an Asian zoonotic perfect storm,” noted Jim Keen, D.V.M. Ph.D., a former senior USDA scientist who deployed to deal with outbreaks of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) in the U.K. in 2001 and African Swine Fever throughout Africa some years later. “If we continue to farm mink by the millions and use their skins for topical decoration, they will likely remain a continual source of COVID virus variants. And if COVID spreads from farmed mink into the large wild and feral mink populations across the northern hemisphere (deemed likely by the WHO), humans may be cursed with COVID risk forever.”